Magazine article Public Finance

Inter-Council Bickering Hampers Move to Unitary Status

Magazine article Public Finance

Inter-Council Bickering Hampers Move to Unitary Status

Article excerpt

The drive towards unitary status for regions with two-tier authorities is being hindered by turf wars between competing councils.

Local government minister Phil Woolas has told Public Finance that some bids for unitary status are not backed by sufficient financial information on which to justify a radical reorganisation.

Woolas said he was pleasantly surprised by the 'bigger than expected response' to a three-month consultation on allowing two-tier regions to become unitaries. This was an attempt to iron out local government inefficiencies and make savings.

But problems are arising from the refusal of some counties to provide city councils with sufficient information on the implications of a potential breakaway.

'There is major pressure on us to be decisive and allow more unitaries... but until you look at the financial criteria you can't tell if [an application] is credible,' Woolas said. 'I am aware of at least one county-district area where they are not [co-operating on] sharing financial information even between themselves.'

He declined to name the area, but PF understands that the spat is between Liberal Democrat-led Oxford City Council and Conservative-led Oxfordshire County Council. The city claims it has been told it must seek the details it requires under the Freedom of Information Act.

The county has denied this a spokesman told PF it is working on the request, and has made its own application to the city.

Department for Communities and Local Government officials admitted that there is suspicion that some areas are withholding information because they cannot meet Local Government Secretary Ruth Kelly's demand that the switch to unitary status must not be funded by increasing council tax

Woolas acknowledged that party-politics is distorting the process - and blamed Conservative Party leader David Cameron. …

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